We were reminded of something we once heard from John Wimber: “When a movement begins to denominate it begins to die.”
In his later life Charles Spurgeon became embroiled in a slippery slope that has come to be known as The Down-Grade Controversy. He suggested that denominations often "got on the downgrade" when they abandoned a system of theology which emphasizes God's sovereignty in salvation in favor of one which makes human will the decisive factor.
How does this happen? And why is it so oft repeated? It suddenly occurred to me that it is the result of the abdication of the guiding principle contained in the following verse.
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. Romans 9:16
This verse should sound the clear warning clang of the buoy - or reveal the fog piercing beam of the lighthouse - that warns the ship when it is nearing the treachery of the hidden reefs. For the abandonment of this truth results in shipwreck indeed.
Our modern Evangelicalism - indeed even all of Christendom - has largely lost sight of the great effectual certainty of this verse. The result is that our witness to a watching world has lost its vibrant relativity. Even though we may mouth the signal Gospel truth - not by works - our attitudes and our actions indicate that our confidence lies elsewhere.
Although my musings as an “Evangelical Agnostic” address our current construct - there is nothing new to this dilemma for Paul himself wrote: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:3
This is a clarion call to diligence. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers to be diligent to enter into the Sabbath rest of God - not one day only, but a continual lifestyle. There is no lack of subtleties awaiting as little foxes to rob our vines of the sweet fruit of pure devotion to the One who has declared that He would finish what He has begun in us.
While on a fruit metaphor, we must be reminded: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain,...” John 15:15 If we become severed from this principle we may maintain a facade of fruitfulness, yet in reality a close inspection will reveal no ripe nourishing fruit.
When an individual leader or a whole movement loses its connecting life-flow to the mercy of God they or it then begin to project on others their own sense of inadequacy and even failure. As Paul wrote to the Church at Colossae, these machinations then have no value whatsoever: “but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” 2:23 NIV The watchwords of Christ Himself are then trodden underfoot: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,...”
I was given an illustration once while ministering to leaders in Uganda on the subject of religious deception. Once while deer hunting I decided to use a .44 Magnum revolver. As I lined up my sights on a deer and dropped the hammer the resulting blast was felt on my face and caused a ringing in my left ear that remains there until this day. May Christ’s resounding authoritative shout on the Cross - “It is finished!” - drown out all seductions that would seek to lure us from the purity of devotion. And set before our eyes a vision of the white-hot mercy of God.
For it is we the children of God “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13